Money News: All across Europe, no one borrows like the British

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The Independent Online

Britons are responsible for more than a third of all unsecured debt in Western Europe, it emerged last week.

New lending on credit cards, personal loans and overdrafts in the UK nudged £215bn in 2005, according to research from analyst Datamonitor, compared to a £600bn total for continental Europe.

The average Western European owes £1,558 - excluding home loans - while borrowing by the British UK consumer is twice that at £3,175.

"This is a striking difference and is a result of the UK's insatiable appetite for credit," says the author of the Datamonitor report, Paul Marsh. "In contrast, many major European countries have a culture of saving and frugality; France and Germany are particularly debt averse."

In Germany, for example, switching between credit cards is not widespread, the report notes. But in the UK, a switching culture has become ingrained since lenders began offering incentives in the shape of 0 per cent balance transfers six years ago.

Datamonitor's survey took in 17 countries besides the UK, including France, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Turkey.

Our "buy now, pay later" culture showed up strikingly in last year's revelation that credit cards outnumbered the British population. Growth in the UK over the past 10 years has been fuelled by historically low interest rates and increasingly fierce competition between lenders for market share in both plastic and personal loans.

However, consumers are now looking stretched, with bad debt write-offs and rising personal insolvencies persuading banks to tighten lending criteria.

With mortgage debt included, the UK owes more than £1,300bn.

Fee-charging ATMs: Students squeezed at the cashpoint

More than half of the 400 ATMs on university and college premises in Britain charge a fee of up to £1.85 for cash withdrawals, research from Nationwide building society shows.

Students should avoid these cashpoints if possible, it warns.

Undergraduates are more likely to withdraw small sums of £10 or £20, so a typical £1.50 fee makes a big dent.

Of the 200 ATMs that levy a fee, the cheapest is 70p at Portland College, Mansfield; the most expensive charge is £1.85 at 13 institutions including Hull University and Worcester College.

There are more than 59,600 cash machines across the UK, of which 43 per cent now levy fees. This year, Nationwide estimates, consumers will pay £250m to get their hands on their cash.

Nevertheless, the overall percentage of withdrawals from fee-charging ATMs remains small at around 5 per cent.

Most high-street banks don't charge customers of rival banks for using their machines. However, a number of Co-op and Alliance & Leicester ATMs in remote areas will levy fees on those who aren't customers.

The Government is currently reviewing the impact of fee-charging ATMs on socially deprived areas.

An inquiry by the Treasury Select Committee last year into the transparency of these charges forced the industry to introduce on-screen warnings.

Banking: Cheque fraud set to be bounced out

Fraudsters are about to find it harder to bank cheques. A rule change introduced today prevents the acceptance of cheques made payable to the recipient's building society or bank instead of being written in their own name.

Although most people make cheques payable to individuals or companies, many are still happy to write out out the sum to a particular financial institution rather than a definite account.

In a number of cases, this loophole has allowed fraudsters to steal bank cheques not addressed to them and deposit them in a separate account but with the same bank, for example.

The rule change should stop cheques being banked by thieves and fraudsters, said a spokesman for UK payments body Apacs.

Although the fraud is small - in 2004, around £1m was lost this way and represented less than 1 per cent of all cheque fraud - the rule change is needed, Apacs added.

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